Coot (Fulica atra)

French: Foulque macroule
GenusFulica (1)
SizeLength: 36-42 cm (2)

The coot is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

The coot (Fulica atra), Britain's largest rail species (5), is a plump water bird; it has a greyish body, a black head, and a white bill, above which there is a prominent white 'frontal shield' (2). The saying 'as bald as a coot' refers to this frontal plate, as do a number of local names for the species, including 'bald coot' and 'white-faced diver' (6). Juveniles have whitish areas on the sides of the head, breast and fore neck; the rest of the body is brownish-grey. The young are covered in black down and have red and blue markings on the head (2). Coots produce a variety of vocalisations, including a loud 'kowk', and a sharp 'pitts' (2).

Widespread and common throughout Britain, but absent from hilly areas and most parts of northern and western Scotland (7). Elsewhere, the coot is found in Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, through Eurasia, reaching as far east as the Pacific coast of China and Japan. It is also found in Australasia, south-east Asia, and India (8).

The coot is found in most shallow, still or slow-moving freshwater habitats including ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, gravel pits and reservoirs (7).

The coot feeds on pondweeds and invertebrates (5); it dives rather clumsily to obtain food, and returns to the surface rapidly thanks to its cork-like buoyancy (7). Unlike ducks, coots bring their food to the surface before eating it; this results in frequent cases of food stealing (5). They are opportunistic birds, and may feed in grasslands at certain times of the year (7). During winter, large flocks may gather on large lakes and reservoirs (9), these gatherings are relatively peaceful compared to the fierce territorial aggression seen during the breeding season (2).

The nest, a mound of dead reeds, is usually built amongst emergent vegetation (7). From mid-March, between six and nine speckled eggs are laid (occasionally up to 15 eggs, though these large clutches may be laid by more than one female (9)). The eggs are incubated by both parents for up to 24 days (7). The chicks leave the nest a few days after hatching, and reach independence at around eight weeks of age (7). Two broods are produced a year, but occasionally a third brood may occur (7).

The coot is not threatened; in fact the population has increased somewhat since the 1970s (10).

The coot receives general protection in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. A number of populations occur in Special Protection Areas (8).

For more information on the coot and other bird species:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Environment Agency (1998) Species and Habitats Handbook- 'Look-up' chart of species and their legal status. Environment Agency, Peterborough.
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  6. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  8. JNCC (November 2002):
  9. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  10. BTO Breeding birds in the wider countryside (November 2002):